It’s neither free enterprise – nor Christianity- that creates social breakdown.

David Hodgson writes that social breakdown and inequality are the result of “neo liberal social and economic policies”. They are the result of re-creating our” social and economics institutions in the image of America, having turned our backs on Europe.”

Arguing that Breakdown Britain, or the poverty and drug-taking in some US cities, is the result of economic liberalism is as likely as arguing these phenomena are the result of living in a Christian culture in the UK and the US, a proposition I know David would reject. It is true that there is some poverty and unemployment in the USA, but less of the latter than in the EU. Relative US poverty is in relation to a much higher standard of living in the USA than in Europe. Both the US and the UK are Christian countries, so how can we be sure that the features of society we do not like result from the alleged economic policies rather than from a Christian framework marked by tolerance of other ways of life? I do not see causal connection in either case, but could make a better argument for the latter than for the former. You could argue that the lack of an agreed moral framework, and the lack of moral authority by the Christian Churches over many people in the society are, in part, the reason for different social mores and the presence of more anti-social behaviour than in say, Islamic societies where the moral grip of religion is greater. We value freedom more, and the Churches give a hesitant message if any on how we should live.

The UK, far from turning its back on Europe in the last couple of hundred years, has remained engaged so much that it has fought great wars to try to keep Europe free, and in recent decades has accepted practically every law code and power shift recommended by the EU. Over the last decade the government has taken public spending and borrowing up to EU levels, and has equated NHS spending to health spending levels on the continent. At the same time, France, deeply embedded in European politics and values has seen her suburbs disfigured by high unemployment, racial tensions, poverty and drug taking on a worrying scale. How on earth can you believe that if we were more “European” we would have fewer social problems?

There is a great misunderstanding by many on the left of the nature of free enterprise capitalism. It is not wholly individualistic, and it does not rely on competition to the exclusion of co-operation and community. I believe in free enterprise as part of my wider belief in a free society. I am against big government, but that does not make me a critic or opponent of collective actions, community values, or team work. I prefer team games to individual effort sports, where the individual has to co-operate with others and work for the benefit of all team members. I like enterprise capitalism, because like minded and like motivated people discover they are stronger working together than apart, and are able to serve their fellow human beings better by co-operating through companies.

I dislike big government, because it is so often clumsy and insensitive, damaging civil liberties in the name of security, and damaging free enterprise in the name of equality. It makes us collectively poorer. Taken to the extremes of communism it makes the society so much poorer that the poor are poorer as well as the rich are poorer than people in freer societies. Big governments under communism always favoured more spending on weapons than on improving the lifestyles of their publics.

Free enterprise societies have higher average incomes than other states organised along different lines. They enjoy more personal freedom than socialist states where government may command where you work, determine your income, decide your housing and control your thoughts. The freer the state the better the economy – the European model of limited free enterprise has been consistently outperformed by the freer USA, which has kept its unemployment lower and its growth rate higher than the EU.

A free enterprise society gets the best out of the individual and the family by allowing them to co-operate and work with others as they choose, by allowing thousands of flowers to bloom in the meadow of our plenty. It honours charities, welcomes Churches, encourages diversity in tackling social problems as well as in producing more and better goods. The main developments that have made life so much easier – the phone and mobile phone, the TV, the washing machine and the car have all been developed in free enterprise societies. Free enterprise works because it creates that natural balance between competition and collaboration, between team effort and individual initiative. Other societies are not so good at that, so they either have to copy the free enterprise ones and allow in their companies to do it for them, or accept lower living standards and greater poverty.

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14 Comments

  1. Bazman
    Posted July 6, 2008 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Right wing religious fundamentalists and communists are both sides of the same coin.

  2. Cliff
    Posted July 6, 2008 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    I believe part of what the Reverend David Hodgson suggests is true.
    I suspect by "Neo liberal social and economic policies" he means governments legislating against accepted morality.
    The liberal benefits system for young single unmarried mothers appears at one level to reward such behaviour, I suspect this is the type of thing he is talking about.
    As we as a society have become more liberal, so our society has declined. It appears to me that, humans need boundaries within which to live their lives. If you give too much freedom, such as in the case of single parenthood for example, some sections of society will exploit it to the detrement of everyone else. It must be wrong for a teenage girl to decide to have a baby, because it is her "right" to, without any responsibility for housing it, feeding it or clothing it. In our liberal society, we all end up picking up the bill for such selfishness and irresponsibility.
    Another example, in Saudi Arabia there is almost no theft at all, here in the UK it is a major problem because no one fears the consequenses, I am not advocating cutting thieves hands off but, in our liberal society, too many people are happy to supply excuses why the offender is really a victim rather than the villian.

    I agree that poverty is relative and the only datum one has is the people around us however, we should always reward effort and encourage realistic enterprise.

    I personally believe that as we as a society have turned away from religion and it's moral codes, so our society has declined. The Church of England must take some of the blame for this, given their liberal social policies.

    Whether one believes in God or not, right is always right and wrong is always wrong and that seems to be what society has forgotten.

    I have met the Reverend Hodgson a couple of times as I have relatives buried in his chuchyard (we don't have a church yard at our Catholic church) and I have attended a couple of baptisms at his church with friends of mine, each time I have met him, he came over as a genuine caring sincere person and has spoken much commonsense. The only area where we differ, are the main differences between his faith and my faith over women priests, as previously stated on another thread.

  3. B Jones
    Posted July 6, 2008 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    It is interesting how many people look outwards to see why our country is in breakdown. I couldn't, even as a Eurosceptic, blame the EU for our social breakdown and I don't think the Europhiles should look towards America for reason either. We must look inside this country, not outside. Looking outwards for reasons to internal problems just leads to wacky reasoning and silly solutions. I've heard people claim that our youth are violent because they see the wars in Afghanistan & Iraq and think violence is the way to solve problems – utter tosh, of course, as are all reasons found by looking at the world for a solution to a British problem. Perhaps what happens when people look to the world on the British issue of social breakdown, is that they just find a view that fits their opinions – if they're anti-war or anti-American then the wars and America are the problems, it's not particularly helpful and I'm glad the right aren't doing that.

    We should stop looking out there for reasons and solutions and instead we should look inwards.

  4. The Admiral
    Posted July 6, 2008 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    I used to be a typical soft-left liberal but now, in my late thirties I find I completely agree with you. My old self would have felt extremely uncomfortable with the views you have expressed but over time I realised that my primary motivation was "what other people might think of me". The left has been extremely succesful in positioning the "market" and associated words such as "profit" as dirty, shameful concepts.

    My father, a retired senior civil servant, talks of how awful "letting the market rip" would be, as if it is some fearful monster that should be caged and shackled for fear of what letting it free might unleash.

    I have come to realise that "the market" is just the sum of billions of small and large decisions made by all of us every day. If you don't like the market or free enterprise, what you are really saying is that you don't like the decisions that people are making and that the views of a minority elite at the centre should take precedence over the decions of all of us.

    I completely agree that this doesn't preclude collective endeavour at all and in fact success is often dependent on it.

    I do feel like the scales have fallen from my eyes but am somewhat deflated, as I look around, at the scale of the task of putting choices back in the hands of ordinary citizens rather than ideologues at the centre.

    Political apathy and the growth of the state infrastructure (and the role of the state in our lives) seem to be in some sort of grim symbiosis – a vicious circle.

    I wonder if my political journey, which is arguably a cliche anyway being a young liberal to older conservative journey, is part of a wider trend or whether it is an isolated example.

    The problem with Labour having been in power so relatively seldom in the 50 post war years, meant that the "dream" of massive state expenditure and huge state apparatus could remain alive – albeit often on a drip.

    Maybe now, after 11 years of seeing this philosophy in action, people will say "OK – we've seen now it in action and it clearly doesn't work and is not worth the costs to personal freedom and prosperity."

    But, as long as high state expenditure and infrastructure is equated, in the media as much as anywhere else, with "caring" I fear this will not happen.

    I support David Cameron and think he is a good man, but you can see in his careful positioning of Conservative policy that he feels that making the case for a smaller state, rolling back the role of government in our day to day lives and promoting the virtues of private enterprise are too much for the population to swallow. I find that profoundly depressing.

    Or am I wrong Mr Redwood?

  5. mikestallard
    Posted July 6, 2008 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    I want to repeat ad nauseam that, just as there is a huge difference in behaviour between the BNP and the New Labour front bench, so there is a huge difference in behaviour between Christians and Muslims and also between Catholics and Protestants – and between Anglicans and everyone else too. Your faith matters and it affects your behaviour. What, therefore, matters – as in politics – is choosing the right team to play for.

    A country that has been formed in Christianity is, therefore, going to behave very differently from a country that has been formed by juju or by militant Islam. It will tend to believe in the importance of cooperation, of decent behaviour, of helping your neighbour.
    A juju society will depend on fear, on magic and on charms and cursing. It will not be founded on anything other than personal survival, if necessary, at everyone else's expense.
    An Islamic society will depend (words left out)on following, to the letter, the path to paradise (Sharia).
    A Catholic country will tend to be much more hierarchical (like the Church) and much more dogmatic. A Protestant country will tend to be more independent and more made up of individuals.
    And so on.
    Please let's stop lumping religions together under a "religions" tag. It is as daft as doing the same in either economics or politics.

  6. backofanenvelope
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    You say:

    "presence of more anti social behaviour than in say, Islamic societies where the moral grip of religion is greater"

    Their anti-social behaviour is just different.

  7. Neil Craig
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    "Taken to the extremes of communism it makes the society so much poorer that the poor are poorer as well as the rich are poorer than people in freer societies"

    Doesn't take much of an extreme. The fact that economic growth is a compound function means that a country with a higher growth rate outpaces competitors very quickly indeed. For example it is only 19 years since Ireland cut its corporation tax & in the interim, by achieving 7% growth, has gone from being 2/3rds as rich as us to more than 4/3rds making even those on 60% of the average (ie "official" poverty) nearly as rich as the UK average.

    Ireland didn't have to embrace the Protestant work ethic, nor us communism, to make that happen.

  8. Freeborn John
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    “I believe in free enterprise as part of my wider belief in a free society.”

    I believe this too, but liberal economics can be justified independently of political liberty on the grounds that it happens to work better (i.e. raise living standards higher) than any alternative economic system yet devised. Indeed I think it was this realization, which can be determined on actual observed economic decline of those countries that shunned economic liberalism, that can said to be responsible for the discrediting of socialism as a viable political system among those people that previously supported it.

    The connection between political liberalism and anti-social behavior is an interesting one for me. We are all familiar with pictures of the regimented lines of children seen in despotic societies up to and including North Korea today. But it seems to me there are interesting differences even between Western societies. I lived in Germany for a time, where I first heard the expression “Monkey Island” applied to Britain because of the unruly nature of our school-children. And it seemed to me when observing the orderly school children in Germany (and also in other societies like Japan) that there indeed some truth to the charge that young Britons are more unruly than their peers elsewhere. If the charge has some truth to it then it seems to me that there must be something about our national culture that leads to noticeable differences in behavior of people so young. Some of these unruly kindergarten students will graduate into fine upstanding citizens, but some will also become the ‘feral youths’ responsible for much of the anti-social behavior that bedevils the land. The interesting question for me is whether there is a connection between a culture that tolerates a certain degree of indiscipline in the young, and the free-thinking creative spirits responsible for making the English-speaking world the pathfinder in the technological, cultural and economic spheres worldwide? If so then the danger would be that in clamping down on the root causes of ‘Breakdown Britain’ we might to some extent extinguish the spark of creativity responsible for so much of what Britain has achieved in the past and which seems more vital than ever for economic success in the post-industrial 21st century.

  9. Frank Davis
    Posted July 7, 2008 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    "I believe in free enterprise as part of my wider belief in a free society. "

    and

    "I dislike big government, because it is so often clumsy and insensitive, damaging civil liberties in the name of security, and damaging free enterprise in the name of equality."

    So why did you vote for smoking to be banned in public places – and, more specifically, pubs? Couldn't people have been left to decide for themselves? Wasn't that "clumsy and insensitive", and "damaging civil liberties"? Or do you believe the nonsense about passive smoking that not even government health expert Julian Le Grand believes?

  10. Reverend David Hodgs
    Posted July 8, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    By neo-liberal policies I refer to a specific complex of, mainly economic, policies which have characterised the governments of the English-speaking developed countries and some of the global institutions like the World Bank and the WTO since about the late 1970s. They are so much part of the air we breathe we hardly know any different.
    I'm not arguing for communism! But there is more than one way of doing capitalism; and some European countries have shown that. It may be an old chestnut; but what about Sweden for example? China of course is another way of doing capitalism which I would not advocate either!
    The factor that I believe – and there is evidence for this – has a systemic relationship to social breakdown is the level of inequality within an economy. There is also a strong Christian moral case, as well as a pragmatic one, for making the reduction of inequality a key plank of policy.The US has one of the highest inequality indicies in the developed world. CEOs there earn over 300 times more than the lowest-paid workers.
    Inequality matters in the debate about social breakdown.

    Reply: I am all in favour of reducing inequality by creating circumstances in which the poor can get richer. You cannot, however, make the poor rich by seeking to make the rich poor.

  11. Freeborn John
    Posted July 8, 2008 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    I happen to believe the Reverend has a point that there is a connection between high-levels of economic inequality and crimes like theft. We have for example seen in the past that crime in the UK tends to go up when unemployment is high. However the UK experience, which is increasingly accepted on the Continent, is that the best recipe for full employment in the medium to long term is economic liberalism. The Continent is in fact characterised by a combination of high levels of unemployment (relative to the UK) combined with a lack of political will to implement liberal reforms that politicians feel are needed. The lack of political will is due to the majority of the electorate that is in work caring more about the disruptive threat that economic liberalism would represent to their own jobs than for the opportunities it would create for the underprivileged minority now out of work. This does not strike me as a very Christian attitude.

  12. Bazman
    Posted July 8, 2008 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

    "Reply: I am all in favour of reducing inequality by creating circumstances in which the poor can get richer. You cannot, however, make the poor rich by seeking to make the rich poor."

    I would agree with this in principle, but it depends on how they got rich and upon who's back. Apologising for Bill Gates wealth is no way forward. See the first post, and don't forget the Conservatives repressing reports on links to crime and poverty. In the 1930's there was lower expectations and most importantly, less to steal.

  13. Freeborn John
    Posted July 9, 2008 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Reverend Hodgson clearly prioritises equality over liberty. J.S. Mill defined liberty as the belief that man is free to do anything unless he harms others. At least 6 of the 10 commandments can be condensed into “Thou shalt not do harm to others” and none of the remainder have anything to say about equality. Therefore it seems to me that God is a liberal.

  14. Nick Kaplan
    Posted July 10, 2008 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    The reverend makes an interesting argument that inequality is a cause of social breakdown in the US (and presumably the UK). It is important to notice that this argument implies there need not be any connection between the conditions in which the criminal lives and the crimes that he commits, of importance, the reverend suggests, are the conditions experienced by the criminal’s neighbour. An argument that were to suggest poverty (defined in absolute terms of purchasing power) is a cause of crime is one that I could sympathise with, but the argument that suggests it is not the poverty of the criminal but the wealth of his neighbour that causes crime is surely nonsense. I wonder how many of our recent spate of teenage stabbings were the result of CEOs getting above average pay increases over the last decade.

    The truth is that inequality (of wealth/ outcome) is neither good nor bad, it is a perfectly neutral, one must assess why it has arisen and ask if the causes of that inequality are inherently good or bad. Changes in equality can be the symptom of something good or of something bad . For example a rise in inequality can be the result of some becoming better off while others remain the same (good by any objective measure) or the result of some becoming worse off while others remain the same (bad by the same measure). Instead of wasting time trying to address relative poverty (which focuses on inequality and thus is always aimed at punishing the rich rather than helping the poor) the issue we must focus on is absolute poverty. As Ian Duncan Smith has recently highlighted, such absolute poverty is primarily the result of family breakdown and poverty traps such as our ridiculous welfare system, financial poverty a symptom not a cause of a more widely understood social poverty. If people are encouraged to take responsibility for themselves and to concentrate on their own welfare (rather than constantly being told by the likes of the reverend that they must judge themselves relative to others) then perhaps the position of the poor and the social breakdown that goes with such poverty may diminish.

    As Churchill famously said “the inherent vice of capitalism in the unequal sharing of blessings, the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” Inequality is not inherently bad and hurting the rich will not help the poor. The only way to help the poor is through helping them achieve some kind of economic independence; by getting them back to work, taxing them less and encouraging them to take responsibility for their own lives and communities. The socialist view, put forward by the reverend, that redistribution and greater equality will end (or slow) social breakdown is a complete Non sequitur, it is tantamount to saying that the only way for the rich to stop criminals robbing them is to let the government rob them instead.

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